Asthma in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Natural Relief

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Health Conditions

Did you know that, just like humans, animals can have asthma? If you have a kitty with the condition, you definitely know. 

Asthma in cats affects between 1 and 5% of cats – so it’s more common than you might think!

And if you didn’t know that asthma was a thing for cats, but have a favoured feline in your home, it might be a good idea to know about the common causes and how to handle it. Just like in humans, asthma in cats can cause difficulty breathing and significantly impact their quality of life. 

So, in this post, that’s what we’re going to do – talk about what causes an “asthma attack” and how you can help your adored beast.

What is Asthma?

Asthma in cats, also known as feline asthma or allergic bronchitis, is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the small airways in a cat’s lungs. 

This inflammation leads to the narrowing of these airways, making it difficult for the cat to breathe. The condition is similar to asthma in humans and can range from mild to severe, potentially requiring lifelong management.

What does it look like? Common symptoms include:

  1. Coughing: Persistent coughing, which may sound like hacking or gagging.
  2. Wheezing: A high-pitched whistling sound during breathing.
  3. Difficulty Breathing: Laboured or rapid breathing, often with an open mouth.
  4. Lethargy: Reduced energy levels and reluctance to engage in physical activities.
  5. Cyanosis: Bluish coloration of the gums and tongue due to lack of oxygen (a severe symptom requiring immediate attention).
  6. Feline Asthma Attack: During an asthma attack, a cat may crouch low to the ground with their neck extended and struggle to breathe.

IMPORTANT: Many cats are misdiagnosed with fur balls when it’s actually asthma – the hacking or coughing and stance even can look very similar. Be sure that you are checking it out with your vet and don’t just assume it’s a fur ball. 

Causes and Symptoms of Asthma in Cats

The exact cause of asthma in cats is not fully understood, but most experts agree that it’s an allergic reaction – an overreaction of the immune system to various allergens or irritants.

When a cat first inhales a triggering allergen, their body prepares itself by developing specific antibodies that will target that antigen if it attacks again. So, when the cat is exposed to that antigen again, these antibodies recognize the allergen and react. 

Part of this reaction is the production of substances that promote inflammation, a condition that results in irritation, swelling, and reactive constriction of the airways.

Common triggers include:

  1. Household Irritants: Cleaning products, scented candles, air fresheners, and certain types of cat litter can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
  2. Environmental Allergens: Pollen, mold, dust mites, and tobacco or cannabis smoke can trigger asthma attacks in cats.
  3. Stress: Stressful situations or changes in routine can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms in cats.
  4. Respiratory Infections: Viral or bacterial infections can lead to asthma or worsen existing symptoms.
  5. Genetics: Some cats may be genetically predisposed to developing asthma.


Holistic and Natural Ways to Provide Relief for Asthma in Cats

There are several holistic and natural approaches we can offer for additional relief and to support overall respiratory health.

  1. Environmental Control:
    • Air Purifiers: Use HEPA air purifiers to reduce airborne allergens and irritants in your home.
    • Dust-Free & Scent-Free Litter: Choose low-dust/dust-free and scent-free cat litter to minimize respiratory irritants.
    • Regular Cleaning: Keep your home clean and dust-free. Avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals and opt for natural, pet-safe products.
  2. Diet and Nutrition:
    • Balanced Diet: Feed your cat a high-quality, balanced diet to support their immune system and overall health.
    • No Dry Food: Raw, canned, homemade – all of these are fine options, we just recommend staying away from dry food (ie. kibble). It zaps essential moisture and can be hard on the body long-term. It can also irritate the trachea, which can actually set off coughing!
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omegas are an important part of any diet, and can help reduce inflammation and improve respiratory function.
  3. Stress Reduction:
    • Routine: Maintain a consistent daily routine to reduce stress.
    • Safe Space: Provide a quiet, safe area where your cat can retreat and feel secure.
    • Loneliness and Boredom: Both can be detrimental when it comes to stress. Look at a cat companion, spend lots of time together, give them access to windows to look outside, build a “catio,” get/build a cat tree.
    • Calm Your Stress: Don’t forget to focus on your own stress, and the stress inside your home, when you’re considering stress reduction.
  4. Helpful Herbs (We highly recommend Feline Gut Soothe!!):
    • Marshmallow Root: With its high mucilage content, marshmallow root has strong demulcent properties, which can help reduce swelling and irritation in the mucous membranes and support calming in the respiratory tract.
    • Slippery Elm: Another demulcent herb, slippery elm coats the respiratory tract, which, like marshmallow root, can help to soothe irritate tissues and mucous membranes.
    • Licorice Root: Another demulcent herb, licorice roots can help to soothe inflamed mucous membranes and it also has decongesting and expectorant properties. We recommend only using deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) because it has the glycrrhizin removed.
    • Mullein: It’s famed for its use with respiratory issues. Similar to marshmallow, it has a high mucilage content, and because of its saponin content, mullein also acts as an expectorant, meaning it makes it easier for the lungs to clear themselves of mucous.  
    • Quercetin: A natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that can help manage allergy symptoms.
    • Dimethylglycine (DMG): lDMG increases circulation and increases oxygen utilization allowing your kitty to breathe easier. 
  5. Other Methods of Care:
    • Some cats may benefit from alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, osteopathy, which can help improve respiratory function and reduce stress. 
    • Scratching Posts: Cats aren’t scratching to be jerks – they’re doing it to stretch. The act of scratching actually puts the body back into alignment. When they have asthma, it helps realign the body. Try different posts if they need encouragement, or put some catnip on them to get them interested.
  6. Hydration:
    • Water Intake: Ensure your cat stays well-hydrated, as proper hydration supports overall respiratory health. And research shows that cats cannot properly hydrate themselves when given dry food and fresh water to drink – so consider moving to a wet food, as mentioned above.
    • Make sure the water is always clean, refreshed regularly, and that the bowl is very wide (you don’t want their whiskers touching the sides).
  7. Homeopathy:
    • Several remedies are really amazing for supporting asthma in cats: kali bichromicum, kali carbonicum, arsenicum, phosphorus, pulsatilla, carcinosin

[RELATED] Respiratory Support for Cats: Helping Them Breathe Easier

If You’re Using Steroids

Often one of the conventional treatments for asthma in cats is steroids. And in some cases, these are life saving and can’t be avoided. If you vet has recommended them, it’s important to consider them!

That said, if you do use steroids, learn how to do a kitty inhaler, rather than pill or injectable steroids, if you can. Speak to your vet about this – most are happy to walk through the process. This can help reduce the risk of steroid-induced diabetes, which cats are prone to.

Also, support with the body with:

  • Liver Tonic
  • Phosphorous 30C and Nux Vomica 30C, once per week

It can be scary when your kitty starts coughing or wheezing, but thankfully, asthma in cats is a manageable condition. With the right combination of environmental adjustments and natural remedies, you can help your cat breathe easier and enjoy a better quality of life.

The Adored Beast Team

Bringing you decades of animal health experience. They are product gurus, nutrition specialists, industry experts and researchers, but most importantly, pet owners, pet parents and animal lovers. The Adored Beast team is made up of people who care about the health and wellbeing of your animal family. Their fundamental goal is to provide information, advice, and experienced support you can use, each and every day, to help your pet live the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible.

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